This article published in the Journal of Asian and African Studies investigates how perceptions of China in Mozambican civil society are affected by entrepreneurial activity and bilateral cooperation between China and Mozambique – real, imagined, visible and legal as well as clandestine and illegal in the agricultural and forestry sectors. The research problem concerns how discourse on Chinese investors is formed in Mozambique. Two questions are posed. How does Mozambican civil society perceive their room to maneuver at a time of Chinese growing economic interest and ‘return’ to Africa? What views exist on the policy space for the national government? Using qualitative ethnographic interviews to answer these overarching questions about expanding/contracting maneuvering space, this article explains how Mozambique’s largest social group – peasants – the National Association of Small Farmers (UNAC) and other societal actors perceive Chinese investors. Informed by theoretical debates on civil society, the article argues that coinciding with China’s large-scale return to Africa, an already tense dynamic between civil society and the state is picking up speed. It is argued that this phenomenon is likely to have more to do with African governments accruing more power and policy space than through direct impact of Chinese economic activity on African social life. However, to avoid negative discourse formation, China and host governments need to become more open on and transparent about bilateral agreements.